Visit date: 10th March 2013

Weather: Clear but very cold.


The field trip started at Salisbury Museum in the morning, where we were shown a variety of artefacts dating from the Paleolithic to the Bronze Age, including the Bronze Age hoard found near Tisbury in Wiltshire.


Figure 1: Late Bronze Age barb-and-tang arrowhead in Salisbury Museum Archives, March 2013. Source: Author.

Figure 1: Late Bronze Age barb-and-tang arrowhead in Salisbury Museum Archives, March 2013. Source: Author.


Figure 2: Bronze Age axes of various types from the Wardour Hoard. Source: Author.

Figure 2: Bronze Age axes of various types from the Wardour Hoard. Source: Author.


Grid Reference:  SU 1508 4337

Site Overview

Woodhenge today presents as a series of concentric rings of concrete bollards, marking the previous positions of what have been interpreted as wooden posts of varying widths. The diameter of the henge is 85m, with a 6m wide ditch 2.4m deep. There is a narrow berm separating the bank and the ditch (NMR SU 14 SE 6).

(For an excellent Kite Aerial Photograph used in my original report, please visit )

Noted by Colt Hoare as a burial monument, the site of Woodhenge was first recognised as something unusual when it appeared on aerial photography (Figure 3) (NMR SU 14 SE 6).


Figure 3: Cropmark traces of ‘Woodhenge’ and associated sites, photographed by Squadron Leader Gilbert Insall, VC in the summer of 1926. NMR CCC 8751/7387 30-June-1926. © English Heritage (NMR) Crawford Collection.

Figure 3: Cropmark traces of ‘Woodhenge’ and associated sites, photographed by Squadron Leader Gilbert Insall, VC in the summer of 1926. NMR CCC 8751/7387 30-June-1926. © English Heritage (NMR) Crawford Collection.

Investigation History

Investigation type Investigation Details
19th Century Recorded Colt Hoare records the site as a large disc barrow, and it is known as such until 1925 (NMR SU 14 SE 6).
1926 Reclassification Aerial photography shows cropmark of Woodhenge (Figure 3)
1926-8 Excavation Maud and Ben Cunnington first excavated the southern half of this monument, uncovering what they interpreted to be six concentric rings of posts, with an encircling ditch described as being ‘unexpectedly large’ (Cunnington 1927 :93).Near the centre of the monument, the burial of a child was found, with another burial located beneath the bottom of the ditch, in a grave cut into it. The burial was dated by the presence of a Beaker, crushed into fragments (Cunnington 1929:42). The Cunningtons also established that the raised area in the centre of the mound was the original level of the ground, and that the ground surface had been removed from the rest of the monument (Cunnington 1927 :95), perhaps as part of the preparation of the area.
Cunnington also found that the timbers were later replaced with a stone setting, of which she found two stone-holes (Wilts SMR SU14SE101). Distinctive Grooved Ware pottery, similar to that found at Durrington Walls (see below) was found (Wainwright 1967 :169).
1970 Excavation Further excavations, by Geoff Wainright, providing dating evidence from material from the ditch, giving a determination of 1867 bc ±74 (BM-677) and 1805 bc ±54 (BM-678) (NMR SU 14 SE 6).
2004 Geophysical survey This located the northern terminals of the henge ditch, representing the entranceway of the monument (Wilts SMR SU14SE101).
2005-6 Excavation A re-excavation of Maud Cunnington’s work by the Stonehenge Riverside Project found a further three stone-holes, forming a ‘cove’ arrangement (Wilts SMR SU14SE101).
Figure 4: Plan of excavated features (after Cunnington 1929;Evans &Wainwright 1979). Source: Pollard 1995 Fig.2

Figure 4: Plan of excavated features (after Cunnington 1929;Evans &Wainwright 1979). Source: Pollard 1995 Fig.2


Chronology and Current Interpretation

Environmental evidence from Wainwright’s excavations in 1970 showed that before the monument was constructed, the area was long-established grassland (Wilts SMR SU14SE101). Nevertheless, under the bank was found a tree-throw pit, into which was deposited Carinated Bowl pottery, dating to the early Neolithic, about 4000-3800 BC (Wilts SMR SU14SE101).

As discovered by Cunnington, the timber circle was eventually replaced with a stone ‘cove’ arrangement, and later excavations showed that this had multiple phases: the first being an arc of small stones facing west, which was then replaced by two larger stones (Wilts SMR SU14SE101). Finds of Romano-British pottery above the ditch were interpreted by Cunnington to mean that the site was first cultivated in this period (Wilts SMR SU14SE319).

Pollard (1995) argues that the pattern of artefacts discovered at the various excavations is evidence for structured deposition at the monument, with deposits in the pre-monument pits and also deposits in the ditch occurring almost as soon as it had been constructed. The spatial arrangement of the deposits would also appear to be of significance (as shown in Figure 8) with different offerings in different sectors of the monument. Pollard suggests that the area that later was used for the monument already held significance and the monument was a formalisation of this.


Figure 5: Spatial organisation of deposition. Source: Pollard 1995:Fig.12

Figure 5: Spatial organisation of deposition. Source: Pollard 1995:Fig.12

The burials are interpreted as being a secondary usage of the monument, rather than its focus (Barrett 1994 :65). Instead there is a suggestion that the alignment of the entrance shares an axis with Stonehenge, but also aligns with a latterly-blocked entrance at nearby Durrington Walls, suggesting a relationship between the two monuments (Pearson et al. 2006 :234).

Durrington Walls

Grid Reference:  SU 1503 4373 (centre)

Site Overview

Durrington Walls is a large Class II henge (had two opposing entrances) by the side of the River Avon in the parish of Durrington, Wiltshire. It has been considerably damaged by plough action, and the buildup of soil from ploughing obscures some of what is left (Wainwright 1967).


Figure 6: Durrington Walls, plan of henge. Source: Wainwright 1967: Place XXVI

Investigation History

Year Investigation type Investigation Details
1812 Recorded Recorded by Colt Hoare (Wainwright 1967)
1918 Account published As a result of a drainage trench being cut through the monument, Mr Farrer published an account of what could be seen of the bank, demonstrating that it was mostly obscured by a lynchet. Pottery identified by Maud Cunnington as part of a Beaker was found on an old land surface below the bank, along with burnt bone, flint and charcoal (Wainwright 1967).
1966-1968 Excavation Work ahead of the construction of the A345 road unearthed two circular timber multiphase structures, with associated finds of grooved ware. These are known as the North and South Circles, with the South Circle having at least two phases (Figure 7). Dating evidence dates of 2050 ±90 to 180±148 bc (Wilts SMR SU14SE100)
2005-2006 Excavation The Stonehenge Riverside Project carried out excavations at Durrington Walls, and re-excavated the South Circle and areas within and without the bank of the henge. They discovered the Durrington Avenue, leading from the henge down to the River Avon, and also what have been interpreted as the remains of Neolithic houses, post-dated by pits containing Grooved Ware dated to 2500-2400BC (Mike Parker Pearson et al. 2006).
Figure 7: Phases 1 and 2 of Durrington Walls Southern Circle. (After Wainwright & Longworth). Source: Gibson 2005: Fig.48

Figure 7: Phases 1 and 2 of Durrington Walls Southern Circle. (After Wainwright & Longworth). Source: Gibson 2005: Fig.48

Chronology and Current Interpretation

The excavations in 2005 produced evidence of middens below the bank, interpreted as being evidence for gatherings and occupation at the site before the henge itself was constructed (Mike Parker Pearson et al. 2006). Structures interpreted as houses found beneath this midden layer were interpreted as being contemporary with each other and has been suggested as the possible settlement of the builders of Stonehenge (Pearson & Larsson 2007:140-2).


Figure 8: Radiocarbon dates for the timber circles at Durrington Walls. Source: Gibson 2005 fig.28

Figure 8: Radiocarbon dates for the timber circles at Durrington Walls. Source: Gibson 2005 fig.28

It is suggested by Parker Pearson et al. (2006) that Durrington walls was part of a landscape used to facilitate and commemorate passage from life to death: the living celebrate the recently-dead by feasting and by erecting a wooden post, perhaps for a kin group. The dead are given to the River Avon via the avenue that leads from Durrington Walls to the Avon, and make their spiritual transition down the River, to wend their way to the Stonehenge Avenue, and pass along this to the place of the eternal ancestors: Stonehenge. The idea of wooden structures as part of the world of the living, and stone being of permanence and ancestral dead is based in part on ethnographic work in Madagascar where this suggested structuralist duality was immediately recognisable to Ramilisonina  as being part of the understanding of the world there (Michael Parker Pearson & Ramilisonina 1998b; Michael Parker Pearson & Ramilisonina 1998a).

The solsticial alignments of both Stonehenge and Durrington walls, being opposite, is given as additional evidence for the two monuments being part of a coherent ‘system’, with the journey to Stonehenge via the Avenue being aligned on the Midwinter Sunset, and the passage from the timber circle of Durrington Walls via the associated Avenue faces the Midsummer Sunrise (Parker Pearson et al. 2006 :239). They argue further that the association between death and midwinter, sunsets and general lack of light/darkness suggests that this point is the ideal point of the year for rituals involving death (Parker Pearson et al. 2006 :243). Whether this purported association between darkness and death is applicable to the Neolithic is difficult to assess, but arguably lends consistency to the overall theory regarding the oppositions of life:death, sunrise:sunset, to:from water.


Barrett, J.C., 1994. Fragments from Antiquity: Archaeology of Social Life in Britain, 2900-1200 BC, Wiley-Blackwell.

Cunnington, M.E., 1927. Prehistoric Timber Circles. Antiquity, 1(1), pp.92–95. Available at: [Accessed January 22, 2011].

Cunnington, M.E., 1929. Woodhenge. A description of the Site as revealed by Excavation carried out there by Mr & Mrs B. H. Cunnington, 1926-7-8, Devizes: George Simpson & Co., Devizes, Ltd.

Gibson, A.M., 2005. Stonehenge and Timber Circles 2Rev Ed ed., The History Press LTD.

Parker Pearson, Michael et al., 2006. Materializing Stonehenge: The Stonehenge Riverside Project and New Discoveries. Journal of Material Culture, 11(1-2), pp.227–261. Available at: [Accessed December 27, 2010].

Parker Pearson, Michael & Ramilisonina, 1998a. Stonehenge for the ancestors: part two. Antiquity, 72(278), pp.855–856. Available at: [Accessed March 4, 2012].

Parker Pearson, Michael & Ramilisonina, 1998b. Stonehenge for the ancestors: the stones pass on the message. Antiquity, 72(276), pp.308–326. Available at: [Accessed November 5, 2010].

Parker Pearson, Mike et al., 2006. A New Avenue at Durrington Walls. PAST: the newsletter of the Prehistoric Society, 52, pp.1–2.

Pearson, M.P. & Larsson, M., 2007. The Stonehenge Riverside Project: excavations at the east entrance of Durrington Walls. In Matt Larsson & Mike Parker Pearson, eds. From Stonehenge to the Baltic : living with cultural diversity in the third millennium BC. Oxford: BAR international series. S1692, pp. 125–144.

Pollard, Joshua, 1995. Structured deposition at Woodhenge. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, 61, pp.137–156.

Wainwright, G.J., 1967. The Excavation of the Henge Monument at Durrington Walls, Wiltshire, 1966. The Antiquaries Journal, 47(02), pp.167–184. Available at:


Written on March 10th, 2013 , Diploma Year One Tags: , ,

Visit date: 10th February 2013

Weather: Driving rain and hail at Crickley Hill, torrential rain at Belas Knap and then a blizzard at the Rollright Stones to finish the day.  Therefore not the optimum weather for field observations or photography!


The field trip started at Crickley Hill and took in both the causewayed enclosure and the Iron Age ramparts. From there, we drove to Belas Knap Long Barrow, a stop at Stow on the Wold to dry out and warm up in a teashop, and then on to the Rollright Stones where we saw the stone circle and the supposed barrow in the field opposite, but did not have the will to visit the other monuments in that landscape owing to the blizzard that descended.

Belas Knap Long Barrow

Grid Reference:  SP 02110 25425

Site Overview

(for an excellent Kite Aerial Photograph, which I used in my original report, please visit

The barrow is sited on Humblebee How, near the parish boundary, and lies perpendicular to the contours that drop sharply away to the east, being aligned roughly north-south. It is approximately 55 metres long and trapezoidal in shape, and belongs to the class of long mounds known as the ‘Cotswold-Severn’ style of barrow, owing the geographical distribution of this group and is classified by Darvill (1982:6) as a ‘Lateral entranced tomb’.


Figure 1: Belas Knap Long Barrow from the west, March 2011. Source: Author.

Figure 1: Belas Knap Long Barrow from the west, March 2011. Source: K Bragg.

As can be seen from Figure 1, the top of the hill is reasonably flat (the sharp drop is the far side of the barrow, here). The current appearance of the long barrow is as a result of restorative work undertaken by the Office of Works in 1929 to amend the deleterious effects of previous excavations (NMR SP 02 NW 9) shown in Figure 2.


Figure 2: The 1929 excavations. Source: Berry 1929: Fig.5. Photo by Messrs Martyn 28th July 1929.

Figure 2: The 1929 excavations. Source: Berry 1929: Fig.5. Photo by Messrs Martyn 28th July 1929.

Investigation History


Figure 3: The lettering of the chambers corresponds to the old published plans. Source: Hemp 1929 :Plate 2

Figure 3: The lettering of the chambers corresponds to the old published plans. Source: Hemp 1929 :Plate 2

Investigation type Investigation Details
1863-5 Excavations Reports of ‘extensive excavations’ by Mr L Winterbotham, Mr Chamberlayne and others were published by Dr Thurnam and by Mr Winterbotham himself (Berry 1929 :273). These excavations are described in the NMR entry as of being “by methods not in advance of its time” (NMR SP 02 NW 9).A chamber was located at the south-east end of the mound and four partial skeleton, including two skulls, were found. Their attention then turned to the northern end of the mound, where they discovered the false entrance, ‘forecourt’ area and some enigmatic human remains by the lintel (Parsons 2002). These consisted of parts of skulls, one of which was a round-headed skull of the kind normally associated with much later Beaker burials (NMR SP 02 NW 9) and the bones of children and infants, associated with a bone pin and another bone implement (Bird 1865: lxvi). A local man, Charles Yiend recorded that before these excavations, the space between the hornworks (shown in Figure 4) at the north end was entirely blocked with stones, and the false entrance was not visible (Hemp 1929 :261-2).It is likely that at least one of the skeletons was articulated at burial, owing to a description of a skull found in chamber C (shown on Figure 3) as appearing as though the head was propped up using the hand of the corpse (Thomas 1988 :547).
19th Century Restoration Mentioned here as Hemp (1929 :261) expressed concern that the work undertaken to restore the drystone walling may have resulted in discoveries unknown and unrecorded, as well as blurring the boundary between original stonework and 19th Century conservation efforts.
1929-1930 Excavation Excavations by the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society took advantage of the desire of the Office of Works to reconstruct the barrow, taking the opportunity to re-examine the already-opened chambers and to search for any further chambers in the expanse of barrow where there may have been room for more chambers. Further chambers were not found, but interestingly the excavators found evidence which may show that some time around the Roman period, the barrow was altered to add a layer of oolitic small stones, and potentially also to cover the original stone roofing with further material (Berry 1929).


Figure 4: Belas Knap: the false entrance c 1864. Source: Hemp 1929: fig.1

Figure 4: Belas Knap: the false entrance c 1864. Source: Hemp 1929: fig.1

Chronology and Current Interpretation

Dating evidence obtained by Rick Schulting, gave a date of approximately 4000 to 3700 BC which fits with dates from other Cotwold-Severn tombs in the region (NMR SP 02 NW 9), although Thomas (1988 :542) pointed out that dates obtained from material inside these structures may not share the date of origin of the structure itself, especially as concerns skeletal material.

Neolithic chambered tombs such as Belas Knap are usually interpreted as being the communal grave for a community or kinship group, but with the suggestion that this was not intended as final resting place in all cases. It seems likely that bodies were allowed to become defleshed and then the resulting bones interred, but also removed and redistributed. Thomas draws a distinction between transepted Cotswold-Severn tombs and the lateral-chambered examples, such as Belas Knap, where the lateral-chambered tombs have bones removed again from the chambers (Thomas 1988), possibly accounting for the few remains found. This process was considered risky and required segregating from the world of the living, hence the location of these barrows in liminal places, safely apart (Thomas 1988 :551). Thomas goes on to suggest that this liminality allowed other risky actions to take place, such as exchange between communities.

Fleming (1973) argues that these monuments are more than just places for dealing with the practicalities of corpses: the elaborate ‘forecourt’ arrangements such as has been uncovered at Belas Knap speak to an arena and focus for ritual activities to take place. This is more about the activities of the living, than the dead.


Rollright Stones

Grid Reference:  SP 2960 3087 (Kings men stone circle), SP2994 3084 (Whispering Knights), SP 2963 3095 (Kings Stone)



Figure 5: 'The King's Men' stone circle in a blizzard, February 2013. Source: K Bragg.

Figure 5: ‘The King’s Men’ stone circle in a blizzard, February 2013. Source: K Bragg.

Site Overview

The site of the Rollright Stones is on the border between Oxfordshire and Warwickshire, which runs down the ‘Cotswold Ridgeway’ following the line of the modern road.

The Rollright Stones are actually three separate megalithic monuments: a portal dolmen known as the Whispering Knights; the King Stone, a monolith; and the King’s Men, a stone circle (Figure 5) (Lambrick 1988 :1). The area around has been a focus for activity with Lambrick listing ten archaeological sites:

“1. Roman Settlement; 2. Megalithic Barrow; 3. Round Barrow; 4. Round Cairn; 5. Ring Ditch; 6. Iron Age Cemetery; 7. Saxon Cemetery; 8. Iron Age Trackway; 9. Iron Age Ditch; 10. Pair of Ring Ditches” Lambrick 1988: 1 (punctuation of list, mine).

 Investigation History

Year Investigation type Investigation Details
Late 17th C Excavation Excavation by Ralph Sheldon, but no records were left of what was discovered (Lambrick 1988 :1).
1882 Restoration Using various antiquarian drawings of the King’s Men, and records from the time, Lambrick was able to show that many stones have been restored from where they had fallen or been removed, so the present state of the circle is not necessarily accurate (Lambrick 1988 :35).
1926 Excavation Excavation of the mound adjacent to the King’s Stone provided no evidence for it being a long barrow as was previously suspected, and therefore it looks likely that the feature is entirely natural (Grinsell 1977 :5).
1970 Excavation The laying of a pipe trench to the north of the King’s Men provided an opportunity to investigate any below-ground remains, but this showed little more than periglacial features, and an undated pit (Lambrick 1988 :24)
1983 Excavation A trial excavation at the Whispering Knights was undertaken to establish whether, as the antiquarians had suggested, there was a mound beneath the megalithic remains and whether it would be possible to establish with any certainty whether the Whispering Knights was a Portal Dolmen, or was the end chamber of a ‘terminally-chambered cairn’ (Lambrick 1988 :28).This led to the conclusion that Portal Dolmen was the most likely interpretation, owing to the lack of quarries to form ditches or a mound as might be expected at a long barrow. No direct dating evidence was found but Neolithic and Beaker pottery was discovered in a ditch nearby, and a Mid-Neolithic date seems likely (Lambrick 1988 :32-34).
1986 Excavation A trench was put across the stone circle to facilitate the removal and restoration of the broken stone 61 (Lambrick 1988 :1). The stones were found to be set into a low bank, which had been enhanced on at least two occasions including during the Romano-British period. Evidence was found that the stone circle was intended to be of touching stones, to form a solid, smooth wall, with the circular shape being defined by the inner faces of the stones, which have been noted as being smoother than the outer (Lambrick 1988:41-46).


Chronology and Current Interpretation

The Rollright Stones have not been dated directly by any evidence found by excavation, so any chronology is based on the dates that would be expected for such monuments, rather than evidence (NMR SP 23 SE 14). The earliest monument in the landscape would appear to be the Whispering Knights as this is interpreted as being a Portal Dolmen and may be important in the development of the Cotswold-Severn tradition of megalithic chambered tombs, with the false entrance of Belas Knap an echo of the front of portal dolmens (Lambrick 1988 :25). An aerial photograph showed a pair of parallel ditches to the north-west of the Whispering Knights, previously interpreted as a cursus, but this interpretation has been rejected (Lambrick 1988 :25).

The King’s Men is compared by Burl to the Cumbrian stone circles, and this transmission of ideas he claims is related to the trade in stone axes to north Wiltshire and Oxfordshire, where the majority originate in the Langdales (Burl 1993 :41). He draws a contrast between the size of area enclosed within the circle, and the narrowness of the apparent entranceway and suggests this has a ritual, processional purpose (Burl 1993 :39). This suggestion of the entrance being of importance is reinforced by the enhanced size of the stones directly opposite to the entrance (Lambrick 1988 :42), and the ritual purpose of the circle possibly suggested by the evidence that the ground surface had been deliberately pared back to the bedrock to form a hard, cobbled surface (Lambrick 1988 :47). The evidence for Roman remodelling of the bank beneath the stones may suggest a Roman reuse of the site as a small arena, possibly for activities involving animal-baiting, for which a circle of touching stones, would form a suitable site (Lambrick 1988 :47).


Berry, J., 1929. Belas Knap Long Barrow, Gloucestershire: report of the excavations of 1929. Transactions of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society, 51, pp.273–303.

Bird, H., 1865. An Account of the Human Bones Found in the Round and Long Tumuli, Situated on the Cotswold Hills, near Cheltenham. Journal of the Anthropological Society of London, 3, pp.lxv–lxxiv. Available at:

Burl, A., 1993. From Carnac to Callanish, Yale University Press.

Darvill, T.C., 1982. Megalithic Chambered Tombs of the Cotswold-Severn Region (Vorda research series), Highworth: Vorda Archaeological.

Fleming, A., 1973. Tombs for the Living. Man, 8(2), pp.177–193. Available at:

Grinsell, L. V., 1977. The Rollright Stones and their folklore, St Peter Port: Toucan Press.

Hemp, W.J., 1929. Belas Knap Long Barrow, Gloucestershire. Transactions of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society, 51, pp.261–272.

Lambrick, G., 1988. The Rollright Stones, Megaliths, Monuments, and Settlements in the Prehistoric Landscape, Swindon: English Heritage.

Parsons, J., 2002. Great Sites: Belas Knap [Online]. British Archaeology, 62. Available at: [Accessed April 5, 2013].

Thomas, J., 1988. The Social Significance of Cotswold-Severn Burial Practices. Man, 23(3), pp.540–559. Available at:


Written on February 10th, 2013 , Diploma Year One Tags: , ,

Visit date: 6th May 2012

Weather: Initially chilly but bright, warm sunshine by the afternoon, wind negligible


The route went from Martin Green’s farmhouse across Fir Tree Field to the Great Shaft, then over the field to see the excavated causewayed ring-ditch and the reconstructed round barrow. Leaving Fir Tree Field, the route then followed the footpath (somewhat intruded upon by oilseed rape) up the hill to the top of Gussage Hill to see the long barrow that is included in the Cursus and to view the settlement earthworks. Walking along the top of the ridge, the route then turned left onto the Ackling Dyke Roman Road and followed that as far as the road. Turning left, the next destination was the Wyke Down Henge and associated monuments. The highlight was then to see Martin Green’s museum and see the artefacts he has discovered on his farm.

Figure 1: Location of Wyke Down Henge and the Shaft in relation to other sites on Down Farm. After Green & Michael J Allen 1997 Figure 1

Fir Tree Field ‘Shaft’

Grid Reference:  SU 0016 1467 (NMR SU 01 SW 163)

Site Overview

The Shaft is 10m wide at the top of the 3m-deep weathering cone, tapering to 5m across at the beginning of the vertical section. The entire depth is unknown, as when the water table was reached at 13.2m in 1992, and an augur put in to determine further depth, the bottom was not reached at 25.2m (Allen 2000 : 41).


Figure 2: Fir Tree Field Great Shaft showing the view into the weathering cone August 2009. Copyright K Bragg.

Health and Safety demands that such a dangerous hole must be fenced off, so access to the site is via key only.  (Unfortunately on the day of the field trip, the key was not forthcoming, so photos are from previous visit.) A bridge is provided so that a view may be had down the shaft, but as this is mostly filled in, the view is not as dramatic as might be thought.

Figure 3: Fir Tree Field Shaft from viewing platform August 2009. Copyright K Bragg.

When excavated, a sequence of layers was discovered (as shown in Figure 4): the first layer revealed Beaker pottery and flints, lower down was a layer containing Peterborough ware from the mid-late Neolithic. In this way a sequence of layers dating back to the late Mesolithic was obtained.


Figure 4: Section of the Fir Tree Field shaft with radiocarbon details. (Source Green 2000 Fig 23)

Investigation History

Year Investigation type Investigation Details
1990 Discovery Lush cropmark discovered in Fir Tree Field that when excavated turned out to be the Fir Tree Field Great Shaft (Green & Michael J Allen 1997 :121)
1992-1994 Excavation Careful excavation provided a sequence of layers trapping environmental information in the range 5500-3775BP therefore providing key environmental information about the critical Mesolithic-Neolithic transition in this area (Green 2000).


Chronology and Current Interpretation

The shaft itself is now thought to be entirely natural and a result of water acidified by dissolved minerals causing the chalk to dissolve, although initially considered by geologists to be of anthropogenic origin (Green & Allen 1997 :130). Similar features can be found elsewhere in the area and such solution holes are a common feature of limestone and chalk geologies. The importance of this particular feature, in archaeological terms, is not just for the retrieved artefacts themselves, but for the rich environmental data that has been obtained that can then be used in the interpretation of the high density of archaeological sites in the area (Green & Allen 1997 :130-131).

Wyke Down Henge

Grid Reference:  SU 0065 1528 (NMR SU 01 NW 113)

Site Overview

The Wyke Down Henge presents as a penannular enclosure consisting of 26 chalk-cut pits approximately 2m deep (Entwistle & Bowden 1991 :26), although with some notable variety in depth (Barrett et al. 1991 :92), with a 3m entrance causeway (Entwistle & Bowden 1991 :26). After excavation, the site was left exposed so that the arrangement of pits can be seen. The site is located on a low hill and is close by part of the Dorset Cursus, and also a Peterborough Ware site in Chalkpit Field (Barrett et al. 1991 :105) (the field to the south-east of the field the henge is in). As well as being close by to other archaeological sites, the henge is close to the source of the River Allen, especially to a Pleistocene river cliff marking a paleochannel (Entwistle & Bowden 1991 :26). The section of the Cursus at this point is known to have been reused, and also would be most visible as it travels over the river cliff (Barrett et al. 1991 :105).

Figure 5: Wyke Down Henge looking south-west May 2012. Pits show as green circles in a ring against the chalk. Photo copyright P Bragg.

Investigation History

Year Investigation type Investigation Details
1983-1984 Excavation and environmental analyses Excavated by Bradley, Barrett and Green, the pits were found to have been cut and then recut at a later stage and then a central pit cut where the axes of the monument cross. Among the finds were carved chalk objects in the primary cuts, and grooved ware in the secondary cuts.


Chronology and Current Interpretation

The initial pits that were dug silted up again quite quickly and from all sides (i.e. no evidence for external bank collapsing) (Barrett et al. 1991 :92). Brown (1991) suggests that the nature of artefacts found in this primary fill indicated that in the early stage of the henge, the deposition was pragmatic, rather than with any ritual/symbolic overtones. The environmental samples from this first phase indicate that the area was open but with the possibility of denser woodland nearby, with the evidence consistent with the environment external to the pit not just recording an internal micro-environment (Entwistle & Bowden 1991 : 26).


Figure 6: Outline plans of the Wyke Down hence monument, showing the distribution of deposits belonging to the primary phase. (Source Barrett et al. 1991 Fig 3.20)

The pits were then recut (more shallowly than the original) and material from these has been radiocarbon-dated to 2190 ± 80 bc (BM 2396) and 2200±50 bc (BM 2397) (Barrett et al. 1991 :92). These recut pits also contained grooved ware pottery and at the time of this deposit, environment conditions were more shaded: suggestive of scrub rather than woodland cover (Entwistle & Bowden 1991 : 28) and that the monument was left untended (Allen 2000 :48). The final stage was the insertion of a central pit, with a deposit that has been dated to 1510±90bc (BM 2394) (Barrett et al. 1991 :96).

Barrett et al. (1991 :105) require that the henge be interpreted as an enclosure rather than the alternative of a causewayed ring ditch (an example of which can be seen excavated in Fir Tree Field) but reject the (then-commonplace) interpretation of the pits as a communal and collective cremation cemetery. They point out that cremated remains were a small fraction of the total deposits, and were in a secondary phase and therefore not consistent with the original design and purpose of the monument.


Allen, M.J., 2000. Soils, Pollen and lots of snails. In A Landscape Revealed: 10,000 Years on a Chalkland Farm. Stroud: Tempus Publishing Ltd., pp. 36-49.

Barrett, J.C., Bradley, R. & Green, M., 1991. Landscape, monuments, and society: the prehistory of Cranborne Chase, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Brown, A., 1991. Structured Deposition and Technological Change among the Flaked Stone Artefacts from Cranborne Chase. In J. C. Barrett, R. Bradley, & M. Hall, eds. Papers on the Prehistoric Archaeology of Cranborne Chase. Oxbow Monograph 11, pp. 101-133.

Entwistle, R. & Bowden, M., 1991. Cranborne Chase: The Molluscan Evidence. In J. C. Barrett, R. Bradley, & M. Hall, eds. Papers on the Prehistoric Archaeology of Cranborne Chase. Oxbow Monograph 11, pp. 20-48.

Green, M., 2000. A Landscape Revealed: 10, 000 Years on a Chalkland Farm illustrate., The History Press Ltd.

Green, M. & Allen, M.J., 1997. An Early Prehistoric Shaft on Cranborne Chase. Oxford Journal of Archaeology, 16(2), pp.121-132. Available at: [Accessed May 20, 2012].



Windmill Hill

Grid Reference: SU08657145

Site Overview

Windmill Hill is the site of a Neolithic Causewayed Enclosure and a selection of later Bronze Age round barrows, one of which seems to have the indentation caused by the eponymous windmill in it. The site itself is currently surrounded by open grassland, and agriculture has erased some of the site on one side of the fenceline, as we observed. The site is part of the World Heritage Site of Avebury and part of the wider ritual landscape that includes the extant monuments at Avebury, West Kennet, Silbury Hill and sites such as The Santuary on Overton Hill.

The Causewayed Enclosure is formed of three oval circuits of interrupted ditches with causeways in between the ditches. The area covered by the site is approximately 20 acres and is on the lower and middle chalk (Wiltshire SMR 2011).

Environmental evidence points towards a wooded environment at the time of construction of the causewayed enclosure (Pollard & Reynolds 2002, 55), and the viewshed observable today would not have featured in the prehistoric use of the site. The site would still have been in a prominent position and therefore the woodland would not have entirely concealed its presence (Whittle et al. 1999, 347).

The site ‘faces’ North and Smith notes that it is common for causewayed enclosures to fall across contours of hill rather than following them (Smith 1971, 111).

Investigation History

William Stukeley was perhaps the first person to record the existence of the site, in the 1720s and excavations by HGO Kendal in the 1920s provided a Neolithic date for the site (Pollard & Reynolds 2002, 28). This was a decade after Maud Cunnington had suggested a Neolithic date for the causewayed enclosure at Knap Hill, some miles to the South (Cunnington 1909).

Excavations of all three circuits was carried out by Alexander Keiller, after he purchased the site (Pollard & Reynolds 2002, 49), and published posthumously by Isobel Smith (Thomas 1999, 40). Evidence for various activities included pottery, worked stone and fragments of animal bone (Pollard & Reynolds 2002, 49).


Later excavations by Whittle et. al shed light on the chronology of the site, demonstrating that the three circuits were probably all of a similar date (as far as the resolution of the dating techniques can determine) and probably in use at the same time (Whittle et al. 1999).

The excavation also discovered a burial that predated the causewayed enclosure (Wiltshire SMR 2011), possibly evidence for the importance of the site even before the causewayed enclosure was constructed.

Chronology and Current Interpretation

The causewayed enclosure provided radiocarbon dates from the Early Neolithic, about the middle of the 4th millennium BC.

It is difficult, however, to categorise what precisely the site was in use as, but perhaps this is not necessary, or appropriate. Excavation has revealed artefacts relating to all facets of daily life, perhaps indicating that the site could be used for any or all activities (Whittle 2003) and provides evidence for domesticated animals, non-local clay sources in the pottery fabric, treatment of the dead, farming and potentially exchange of goods (Pollard & Reynolds 2002, 50).

If we interpret the silting up of the ditches to mean that the site went out of use, then even after this point, the site was still an important place, and deposits still made (Bradley 2000, 106). But the site demonstrates that the area was still in use, at least occasionally, well into the third millennium (Pollard & Reynolds 2002, 50).

West Kennet Long Barrow

Grid Reference: SU10456774

Site Overview

West Kennet Long Barrow is a 100m-long mound of earth with a megalithic core at the Eastern end comprising five chambers used for interment of human remains during the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age. It is generally given as an outlier of the Cotswold-Severn style of megalithic chambered tomb, similar to Waylands Smithy in Berkshire (Piggott 1962, 58).

It is false-cresting the end of a North-facing spur of land, above Swallowhead Springs, and so appears on the skyline to people at the foot of the hill. It is aligned East-West and facing East, that is to say that the facade and entrance are at the Eastern end.

The facade of the site as visible today is a reconstruction and not representative of the original state of the barrow before excavation in 1955 (Paul Tubb pers. comm.).

Investigation History

There is evidence to indicate that a 17th Century doctor Dr Toope had potentially raided the West Kennet long barrow looking for human skeletal material for a ‘medicine’. Certainly Piggott records disturbance to the Eastern end of the monument, and the introduction of later material into the disturbed areas (Piggott 1962, 4).

The next recorded investigator of the barrow, was Dr Thurnam, in 1859, who tunnelled into the Western chamber and cleared it. Thankfully, Dr Thurnam did not realise the full extent of the megalithic structure and concluded that this Western chamber was the only one and so left the rest of the chambers for later excavation and recording (Piggott 1962, 5). He did, however, discover human remains, of which four skeletons appeared articulated (Piggott 1962, 6). Also discovered was late Neolithic and Beaker pottery, adding greatly to the confusion that the misleading diagrams and plans of the excavation caused (Piggott 1962, 5).

The most recent investigation was performed by Stuart Piggott and Richard Atkinson in 1955, undertaken to try and explain Dr Thurnam’s findings and establish the true extent of the megalithic structure (Piggott 1962, 7). The findings from this excavation were that there were more than 40 individuals represented within the barrow, with 30 adults or adolescents (Piggott 1962, 24). Not all skeletons were complete, with evidence for sorting of skeletal material into long bones and skulls after the bodies had decayed being the fact that the small bones are present, which may be assumed shows the body was intact when deposited (Pollard & Reynolds 2002, 66). This implies that the chambers were open or at least accessible during the period that this use continued. Radiocarbon dates suggest that the earliest burials introduced into the monument are those still in an articulated state, which contradicts this theory somewhat (Pollard & Reynolds 2002,66), but it may be there was a reason that some bodies were not required to be sorted into components.

Chronology and Current Interpretation

From the radiocarbon dates obtained from the primary interments, a date of 3670-3635 cal. BC is obtained, with the last deposit dated to 3640-3610 cal. BC giving a surprising short period of primary deposition (Bayliss et al. 2007).

Whilst the period of primary interment may be short, the duration suggested for the use of the site for secondary interment (for introducing and removing of skeletal material) (Pollard 2005, 109) was much longer.

Thomas suggested that the role of the long barrow in the treatment of the dead may be one of transformation: articulated (fleshed) corpses introduced to the monument and allowed to decay before being ‘sorted’ and distributed appropriately within the monument. He argues that the secondary deposits that include broken pottery were also subject to this process and broken and separated much as the skeletons had been (Thomas 1999, 206).

Thomas also suggested the idea of the circulation of skeletal material being a kind of economy in which ancestral remains could be transferred and gifted between communities (Thomas 2000).

It is clear that burial practice in the Neolithic was about much more than simply disposing of the dead, and the mortuary rituals were complex and extended.


Bayliss, A., Whittle, A. & Wysocki, M., 2007. Talking About My Generation: the Date of the West Kennet Long Barrow. Cambridge Archaeological Journal, 17(S1), p.85. Available at: [Accessed February 11, 2011].
Bradley, R., 2000. An Archaeology of Natural Places 1st ed., Routledge.
Cunnington, M., 1909. 28. On a Remarkable Feature in the Entrenchments of Knap Hill Camp, Wiltshire. Man, 9(1909), p.49–52. Available at: [Accessed January 11, 2011].
Piggott, S., 1962. The West Kennet Long Barrow excavations, 1955-56, H.M.S.O.
Pollard, J., 2005. Memory, Monuments and Middens in the Neolithic Landscape. In G. Brown, D. Field, & D. McOmish, eds. The Avebury Landscape: Aspects of the Field Archaeology of the Marlborough Downs. Oxford: Oxbow Books Limited.
Pollard, J. & Reynolds, A., 2002. Avebury: Biography of a Landscape illustrate., The History Press Ltd.
Smith, I.F., 1971. Causewayed Enclosures. In D. D. A. Simpson, ed. Economy and settlement in Neolithic and Early Bronze Age Britain and Europe. Leicester University Press, pp. 89-112.
Thomas, J., 2000. Death, identity and the body in neolithic Britain. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 6(4), pp.653-668. Available at:
Thomas, J., 1999. Understanding the Neolithic 2nd ed., Routledge.
Whittle, A., 2003. The Archaeology of People: Dimensions of Neolithic Life 1st ed., Routledge.
Whittle, A., Grigson, C. & Pollard, J., 1999. The harmony of symbols: the Windmill Hill causewayed enclosure, Wiltshire, Oxbow Books.
Wiltshire SMR, 2011. Windmill Hill, Avebury [online]. Available at: [Accessed May 11, 2011].


In the current era, change seems never-ending and relentless. Technology that was new yesterday is obsolete tomorrow. We embrace and welcome change. It can be easy, therefore, to assume that this attitude was always the case: where there was an obvious improvement available, it would be taken up immediately and without question. It is easy to experiment when you have no lack of resources; a catastrophic failure in the experiment will not mean starvation for you and your village. To reject a way of life that has served your family for generations innumerable would be a great leap, and there was no mass media to tell you to do it.

I can’t help but think then, that although the Neolithic ‘package’ spread throughout Europe, the uptake of farming in individual cases would have taken some crisis event to provoke the change, if you view the issue in purely economic terms. It may be that the initial forays into agriculture were special ritual crops for special purposes – a low-risk test of the crazy new ideas. If the gods smiled favourably on these offerings, perhaps the idea had some merit after all. These special crops may only have required periodic effort and so did not require that the farmer become fixed in one area. The well-understood pattern of foraging and hunting could continue, with the episodic return to the crop as part of the seasonal nomadism.

I view this experimentation with the growing of crops is part of the overall package of increased interaction with the land and soil. It probably started gradually and cautiously: a few shallow pits dug with trepidation and hastily filled with offerings, but then progressed to ever more bold statements about their relationship with, and power over, the land.

For me, the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition is this change in attitude towards the earth: the growing confidence with which man interacts with and shapes the very land he lives on. I view farming as the natural result of a growing affinity for the soil, rather than as an economic tool. The act of settling and binding yourself to a particular area can only performed with the confidence that the soil is understood and your place on it defined and negotiated.

Pottery is a natural extension of this relationship; one of the series of transactions that defines the connection between man and his environment. Extracting clay (and flint and other subterranean resources) from the earth is the reward, and the balance, for the offerings placed into the earth.

This increasing confidence and understanding of the nature of soil culminated in the vision and daring to construct large and expressive monuments, and to force a design of their own creation upon the landscape.

Written on November 11th, 2010 , Musings Tags: ,

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Notes from a field